Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

TOP STORY >>Judge finds Iran guilty in bombing

Leader staff report

A federal judge last week ruled that Iran was responsible for the bombing a decade ago of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 American service members and injured hundreds of others, including five airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base. The judge ordered Iranís foreign assets frozen and the families of the victims who were killed be paid $253 million in compensation.

The families of the 19 dead service members had sued the Iranian government earlier, but their complaint was dismissed for lack of evidence against Iran. On June 25, 1996, terrorists exploded what officials estimate was a 5,000-pound bomb planted in a fuel truck near the Khobar Towers in Dharan ó a complex of 10-story buildings housing foreign military service members, including Americans near the Abdul Aziz Air Base. One building was destroyed, another heavily damaged.

Judge Royce C. Lamberth overturned an earlier ruling by a U.S. magistrate after testimony by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh over evidence that the Iranians had trained many of the bombers. Itís not clear how the victimsí families could gain access to the Iranian funds and how the money would be divided and if those who were not killed could also receive compensation.

Air Force service members in the Khobar Tower complex were assigned to the 404th Provisional Wing, most of them on temporary duty in Saudi Arabia. Among them were members of the 314th Airlift Wing from the Jacksonville air base. U.S. service members at the Saudi base supported Operation Southern Watch, which enforced the no-fly, no-drive zone south of the 32nd parallel in Iraq.

The bomb exploded at about 10 p.m. Saudi time. An Air Force security police officer observed the truck drive up to a security barrier about 35 meters from the building. The officer immediately notified U.S. and Saudi security personnel and started evacuation of the building. But as a Saudi patrol approached, two men leaped out of the truck and sped off in a car. The bomb exploded within four minutes of the truck being spotted, leaving
little time for evacuation, Defense Department officials said. The explosion left a crater 85 feet long and 35 feet deep.

A senior Pentagon official said that without the security in place, the casualty count would have been much higher.